The man in the cloth looks incredibly lonesome, as if every one of his friends abandoned him in the moment of his greatest need. And sad—sad for all time, as if the weight of the whole world were upon his shoulders. There is an eternal pensiveness in his death pose. The stabbing thorns that cut so unkindly into his scalp and the blood that flowed from his head are visible, indelible. They are vivid, tangible signs of the once painful wounds that hurt no more.
The gash in his side flows with blood now etched into the cloth, running no more, but visible still—a record of one final insult visited upon him by a soldier’s side arm. His thumbs turn inward tightly, from the pressure of the crude nails against the radial nerves as they pierced the bones of his wrist, causing unimaginable pain. The gaping wound in the feet is visible, caused by the large nail driven into muscle and bone as if driven through a piece of wood. All preserved in the fabric. Scores of blood-filled pockmarks riveted into his back by a sweating Centurion wielding a flagellum touch the fabric and testify to a brutal scourging. Leather thongs tipped with metal beads raked his flesh with incredible velocity. The fabric speaks of the indignity, suffering and humiliation inflicted on the man, who certainly experienced every type of torture, brutality and humiliation possible, in his final hours of life on earth. And Luigi Garlaschelli, an Italian atheist, says the man in the cloth is a fraud.
Garlaschelli (pictured with pipe) recently announced that, after years of experimenting, he has been able to reproduce the image on the Shroud of Turin. Evidently, Garlaschelli, who spent a lot of time attempting to disprove the notion that the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Christ, believes that the matter is settled. However, the matter is indeed not resolved and many unanswered questions remain. Some believe that the image was scorched on the cloth–the product of a divine cosmic energy released at the moment of his transformation; others, such as Luigi, believe that it was etched upon the cloth by a chemical process or in some other fashion. Perhaps no one will ever know how the man came to be on the fabric. Perhaps the Shroud was never meant to be fully understood. Perhaps it was meant simply to inspire thought, awareness, or understanding–a reminder of the unspeakable pain, suffering, and humiliation that Christ endured before His crucifixion. Regardless, Garlaschelli and others like him miss the point entirely. And therein lies the ultimate irony: in trying so hard to prove the Shroud is a fake and a forgery, in trying to attack Christianity itself, Garlaschelli, the atheist, has unwittingly helped to perpetuate the very faith he sought to attack.
What those who attempt to use science to undermine faith do not understand, is that faith, by its very nature, is unscientific. Science can neither prove nor disprove the validity of faith. People believe what they cannot see, cannot touch, and did not witness, all the time. That is the inherent nature of faith. By revisiting the subject of the Shroud, Garlaschelli has rekindled the debate and caused people to reflect upon the man in the cloth once more.
Whether The Shroud is a Holy Remnant or a Divine Fake was never really the point. The importance of The Shroud is in what it represents. A plastic crucifix has no value and is not, in itself, a thing to be worshipped; however, its intrinsic value—what it represents—is of inestimable worth. So it is with the Shroud. The Holy Spirit moves people in mysterious ways to understand and to come to a deeper faith in Christ. Perhaps they believe because of a homily, a picture, a song, a nun, or priest. Perhaps they see the stars at night and are led to believe in something greater than themselves. If they believe because of those things, then why not because of the man on the cloth? Does it ultimately matter how people are led to Christ? Could not the fabric divinely inspire even if it did not touch His divine person? And could it just be that the Holy Spirit–who moves in mysterious and wonderful ways in the lives of those who believe–uses atheists and forgers to pass understanding and inspire believers? Undoubtedly so. The wondrous irony is that people like Garlaschelli—who set out to disprove the faith or debunk it—sometimes reinforce and even perpetuate it.
If the Shroud is an exquisite forgery that reminds us of His suffering, death and resurrection, then it is nevertheless a good thing. If it is the fabric that touched the Divine Body, then it is an indescribably awesome and inspiring thing. If it is simply the work of a man, it is still a beautiful, poignant illustration of the ultimate sacrifice He made for us all. If it is real, “Thank God.” But if it is a forgery that serves to remind us of His last hours on earth, “Thank God for the forger.” For he created a poignant, stark reminder of how much He suffered for the sins of the world.
If the fabric causes someone to ponder for one brief moment the incredible suffering, sacrifice, and gift that the Son of God gave us, it is innately good. Either way, we owe a debt of gratitude to Luigi Garlaschelli, the man of science, the atheist, who spent so much time and effort theorizing how the wonderful image may have been created. He reminds us of the wonderful story of the crucifixion and how even non-believers, can, in their own way, unwittingly, ironically, perpetuate the faith.
William Kevin Stoos (aka Hugh Betcha) is a writer, book reviewer, and attorney, whose feature and cover articles have appeared in the Liguorian, Carmelite Digest, Catholic Digest, Catholic Medical Association Ethics Journal, Nature Conservancy Magazine, Liberty Magazine, Social Justice Review, Wall Street Journal Online and other secular and religious publications. He is a regular contributing author for The Bread of Life Magazine in Canada. His review of Shadow World, by COL. Robert Chandler, propelled that book to best seller status. His book, The Woodcarver (And Other Stories of Faith and Inspiration) © 2009, William Kevin Stoos (Strategic Publishing Company)—a collection of feature and cover stories on matters of faith—was released in July of 2009. It can be purchased though many internet booksellers including Amazon, Tower, Barnes and Noble and others. Royalties from his writings go to support the Carmelites. He resides in Wynstone, South Dakota.